Mel Pearson holds court every day after practice in his office at Yost Ice Arena.
Usually he talks about hockey.
But on Nov. 6, he was asked about his high school years, and another thought resurfaced: Susie, his wife, and how they met.
As he finished up his story about her, he got up from his couch and headed to the exit. While he put his hand on the door, another person walked through the entrance. All eyes turned to her.
“Here’s Mrs. Pearson!” Mel said.
It was a coincidence Mel’s wife was there, but he made the most of it.
“Here, they want to interview you,” Mel said. “This is my wife Susie. They want to know how we met in high school.
“ … I just told him you wouldn’t leave me alone.”
He didn’t wait for a rebuttal, instead opting to leave the room chuckling. She plopped in his empty seat and looked each person in the room in the eye. She smiled before asking a simple question that perked every ear.
“Do you really want to know the true story?”
Mel was from Flin Flon, Manitoba; Susie was from Atlanta.
But the two of them moved around the country. Mel spent a large portion of his childhood shifting through Los Angeles, Baltimore and Portland. Susie stayed South in Atlanta with a brief stop in California before eventually ending up in a hockey town in Minnesota — Edina, where she and Mel crossed paths.
“It’s kind of a miracle that we even met,” Susie said.
The two of them were transplants due to their fathers’ work.
Mel’s dad, also Mel, was a professional hockey player. The Pearsons had jumped from city to city due to his job — his last team was the World Hockey Association’s Minnesota Fighting Saints based in Edina. Upon getting cut, the elder Pearson decided the family should go back to Flin Flon for good. But Mel’s mother, Ruby, pushed to keep him in Edina for his education and hockey career, leaving him with a billet family and eventually the Andersons.
Instead of going back to Canada, he stayed in Minnesota, attending Edina East High School.
Susie’s dad accepted a job in St. Paul, Minn. at 3M the summer before Susie’s sophomore year in high school. Before they moved in, Susie’s parents researched good schools in the area. One, in particular, caught their eyes — Edina East, a half-hour drive from St. Paul. Rather than buying a house closer to his job, Susie’s dad bit the bullet and took the long rides every morning so that his daughter could get a better education.
Instead of living in St. Paul, Susie’s family bought a house in Edina so she could attend Edina East.
And in study hall, the two of them met.
At Edina East, study hall was held either on the third floor of the library, or the study tables in the cafeteria.
Normally, the sessions were split by class. Since Mel was a junior at the time and Susie a sophomore, they were split into different sessions. Mel spent a lot of time in the cafeteria, while Susie would be in the library. But he passed through the library every now and then, and she caught his eye.
“Here’s the true story,” Susie said. “He switched his study hall so that he could be in my study hall.”
Now sharing a period, he pulled out a chair one day and sat next to her, asking for help on an assignment.
To her, he was a hockey player with an unmistakable look. He had an afro, a halo of red curls that extended several inches from his head, and wore bell bottom corduroys with clogs. He talked funny, but so did she. He had a Canadian accent, and she had a bit of a southern twang.
To him, she was a tennis player who was similar to him, new to the school. Most kids had their own cliques. They were the transplants.
“We sort of came together whether it’s fate as we were new kids on the block,” Mel said. “So she was a good looking young lady, and I was attracted to her.”
They gravitated toward one another. He found she had an infectious personality, and she thought he had the same. Moving around constantly, Mel learned how to be sociable. He was sarcastic but, at the same time, kind.
“That’s what kind of drew me to him,” Susie said. “If you look at him or just kind of the way he dressed and his hairstyle, he has a warm heart, and he always had a warm heart.”
Even though they clicked from the start, they didn’t start dating right away. In fact, Mel was with another girl at the time. But that relationship was already reaching its end. When Susie came into the picture, it was the start of a new story.
“How do you know that the love of your life is the person when you’re 15?” Susie asked. “But that’s kind of how it became obvious to both of us.”
When Susie’s dad first laid eyes on Mel, he didn’t like what he saw.
There were no cell phones back then, so to contact one another, Susie and Mel would just knock on the door.
Mel did that, and upon seeing him, Susie’s dad immediately disapproved. Her mom was more accepting. She was always the more kind and loving of the two. But her dad was a hardass, and frankly, Mel was scared. He had been nervous to meet him, and now that they finally met, Mel was off to a bad start.
“He basically said ‘I love my daughter, and I don’t know if you’re the right guy.’ or, ’You can’t fool me,’ or something like that.” Mel said
There was no warm welcome or “come back anytime.” Susie’s dad was protective. He drew the line and set ground rules. Mel appreciates that now that he has two daughters of his own and understands what her dad was trying to do, but at the time, he was anxious.
Luckily, he didn’t have to see much of her dad. Susie’s dad traveled a lot for work, so instead, when he came over, he’d be greeted by just her mom. And she knew what was up — his frequent visits gave it away too easily.
But eventually, her dad warmed up to Mel, too. Susie noted he became Mel’s biggest fan. He just had to get to know the teenager first.
“Once (he) got to know me,” Mel said, “obviously I wasn’t that bad a guy.”
And while Mel would spend every holiday with the Andersons, his billet family, he would make an exception for one holiday. He spent Thanksgivings with Susie’s family.
“He did have the Anderson family,” Susie said, “but then he kind of quickly became a part of our family too.”
With a year difference, Mel graduated high school first and had already committed to playing hockey at Michigan Tech in Houghton. Susie stayed behind to finish high school.
The two of them knew what they wanted, though. They wanted to stay together, so they decided to not date anyone else.
When he could, Mel would try to see her. During school breaks, he would come back to Edina and stay with the Andersons. But John Anderson, his billet brother, knew the real reason Mel would return so often.
“We’d like to think that we really had a nice family,” John said. “But I think it was really Susie that kept him around.”
And whenever the Huskies played the University of Minnesota, Mel would break off from the team to try and get lunch with Susie, even if it was only for an hour or two — anything to catch up and spend time together.
After Susie graduated high school, she attended Minnesota. Her parents paid for her first year, and so Susie and Mel’s permanent reunion was prolonged a year. But she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She did know, however, that she wanted to be with Mel. Both of them were tired of long distance. And upon Mel’s encouragement, after her freshman year, Susie dropped out from Minnesota and worked before moving up to Houghton to spend Mel’s last year there with him.
“We knew that we were the ones for each other, and it was getting kind of tiring to be apart,” Susie said.
It was a leap of faith. While Mel attended classes and played hockey, she worked at the bookstore. She moved in with a girl she had known from high school, the girlfriend of a teammate of Mel’s. Mel lived separately with two other teammates. But the two of them were fully committed.
And Mel made that clear the winter of his senior year.
He had thought about it for a while. The summer before school started, when he was still in Minnesota, he scouted for a ring and bought it. The decision was easy. He knew proposing was the right thing, but he was still a little scared.
“You’re nervous if she’s going to say yes or too young or whatever,” Mel said.
But she was ready for the commitment. And he was too. So when winter rolled around, he hid the ring in a medicine cabinet in his house, and she stumbled across it. It wasn’t picturesque or sappy; he didn’t get down on one knee. Mel jokes that’s how they teach it in Flin Flon, where they’re simple people. But it got the point across.
“It was not anything big and romantic,” Susie said. “But it didn’t downplay that it wasn’t a big deal.
“It would just seem like the natural progression. And I know it’s hard because we were still young, but we just knew we were the ones for each other.”
The summer before Mel’s senior year in college, before he and Susie got engaged, he went back to Flin Flon to spend time with his real family.
Flin Flon is a small town 500 miles north of Winnipeg, the nearest big city. Because it is so far north, the days seem to never end. The sunlight carries over until midnight, and comes back at 4 or 5 a.m. It’s a scenic place that attracted some tourism. But above all else, it’s a mining town, and when Mel got back, naturally, he mined.
Susie had pleaded with her parents to let her visit, and to her surprise, they agreed.
“I can’t really believe my parents let me do that,” Susie said. “Because, now that I’m a parent, I look back and think, ‘Wow, they were kind of trusting but sent me on a plane.’ ”
Though she arrived and stayed for a couple weeks, Mel still had work at Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company. While he stripped away the zinc, sharpened drill bits in the steel shop, worked underground, she spent time with his mom and sister. Susie did get to see him during the day once, when she took a tour around the plant.
But it wasn’t really until after he got off work late that they were able to spend time together.
And luckily for them, the days never got dark.
The fact that Susie could spend time with his mother, Ruby, that summer meant a lot to Mel. Ruby was a driving force in Mel’s life, determined for him to have the best. And like Susie, Ruby was outgoing and sweet, so when they met, they hit it off right away.
“It’s very important for me to meet all my family,” Mel said. “So it’s nice that she came up and met Ruby.”
Susie had moved to Edina after the Pearsons had moved back to Canada. They had met a couple times briefly in Minnesota, but that summer in Flin Flon, they really got to know her. And they adored her.
“I think they really enjoyed her, enjoyed her company,” Mel said. “And how could you not?”
That summer led to one of the best moments for the couple.
The Pearsons took the two of them out fishing at a lake an hour from town where there was no one within miles who could hear them. They hopped on a pontoon plane and landed on the water. It was just the four of them: Mel Sr., Ruby, Mel, Susie and a vast forest of trees.
But that added to the allure. There were no phones, no TVs, no anything.
“It’s just four people on a lake in the middle of nowhere,” Pearson said. “Having a great day fishing and then you’re out there for about five, six hours.”
Susie was a city girl. Mel wasn’t even sure if she’s ever fished before. But the lake, the trees, an experience unlike anything she’s done before. She enjoyed it all.
At the end of the day, when the plane looped back around to pick them up, it was a worthwhile trip for each of the four.
After Mel graduated from college, he and Susie moved back to Edina. He stayed with the Andersons, of course.
The two of them were engaged for a year before officially tying the knot. Mel had held it off until he was ready. Sure, he had graduated college, but he wanted to make sure he had a legitimate job lined up before taking that step.
“At the ripe old age of 22, he had a real sense of sort of being responsible,” Susie said.
He wasn’t sure if he was going to play hockey professionally or get a non-hockey related job. But while he was in Edina, he worked at a sporting goods company until the right opportunity popped up. Then after that, he would get married.
In time, an offer came. He had gotten assistant coaching offers from other schools, but when Michigan Tech offered, he knew it was the one.
The timing was right. It was a year removed from college, and Mel and Susie got married. Susie’s family and the Andersons came to the ceremony. The reception was held at the country club in Edina where Mel loved to play golf.
But in the chapel on France Avenue, they became husband and wife.
“We just fell in love with each other at a very young age,” Susie said. “We were the right ones for each other.”
They met while they were teenagers. They got engaged in college and married a year later. It was all so fast, but she was his biggest supporter and she was the apple of his eye from the outset. When he would get out of line, because of coaching or anything, she would keep him in check. Through thick and thin, they’ve stayed together for 38 years.
“What are the odds that anybody that meets when you’re 15 and 16 are gonna be married for 38 years?” Susie asked.
Not high, but they made it work.